Much of the violence that was perpetrated against African Americans was shaped by gendered prejudices regarding African Americans. Black women were in a particularly vulnerable situation. To convict a white man of sexually assaulting black women in this period was exceedingly difficult. Black women were socially constructed as sexually avaricious and since they were portrayed as having little virtue, society held that they could not be raped. One report indicates two freedwomen, Frances Thompson and Lucy Smith, describe their violent sexual assault during the Memphis Riots of 1866. However, black women were vulnerable even in times of relative normalcy. Sexual assaults on African-American women were so pervasive, particularly on the part of their white employers, that black men sought to reduce the contact between white males and black females by having the women in their family avoid doing work that was closely overseen by whites. Black men were construed as being extremely sexually aggressive and their supposed or rumored threats to white women were often used as a pretext for lynching and castrations.
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